Monday, August 5, 2013


Are You Replaceable?

            Imagine a world where every minute of every day was spent just surviving. Everything is about having a shelter over your head, water, and food. Even the time when you sleep is dependent on your skills at survival.  Gone are the things you have come to count on.  You and every member of your family are completely alone.  Man first found this place himself.  His every minute was consumed by survival.

Slowly he began to create tools that made survival easier, but still it was a daily, hour by hour struggle.  With every tool he created the one thing he needed to progress, time.

Time is everything. It gives us the edge in creating greater tools, and create systems, processes, and dreams that provides even more time. It is with time that we solve problems, and with those solutions provide even more time.

            Humans are the most incredible problem solvers on earth.  The counter to that argument is that animals are also incredible at problem solving, but there is a huge difference.  An animal solves problems that are basic in origin.  For instance, if a monkey needs food and finds a termite mound he uses a stick inserted into the mound to pull out termites.  The monkey stops there.  Humans look at ways to cultivate the food source; they improve the process to allow for a larger harvest in less time.  The ability to be efficient in the use of time and energy is one major difference between animals and humans.


            The evolution of the wheel is a great example of how human technology has improved life. Around 3500 B.C. the wheel was used in the production of pottery.  This increased the number of pots available, which in-turn reduced the price of pots.  This of course made it possible for more and more things to be stored in pots which protected them from insects and the elements. It also allowed for the animal skins that had been previously used to store things to be used for other purposes. The domino effect of this technology increased the number of people that could be sustained in cities, which led to the growth of larger cities. Technology can certainly improve the lives of people.

            500 years after the wheel was used for pottery, it was used for transportation.  The effect of this simple device was tremendous for human life.  Now more products could be transported greater distances faster and cheaper. 1200 years later the spoked wheel would be developed and carts became easier and lighter allowing even more cargo capacity and speed.

            There are lessons to be learned from the wheel that may, or may not seem obvious. The first lesson is of time. Technology allowed humans to spend less time with the task of staying alive, and more time on dreaming of other technologies.  Your parents or grandparents can remember a time when making a cup of coffee meant cutting wood, starting a fire, taking water from the well, and filling a pot for it to brew.  Today you drive to a coffee shop on the way to work and in the space of time it would have taken you to put water in the pot, you drive away with a double mocha latte. Although some people waste that time, others are looking for ways to make that even cheaper and more efficient.

            The pottery wheel allowed for more pots from less potters. The second lesson involves labor.  A major contributor to society is labor. Our economies are based on labor, both as a contributor to survival in the form of a paycheck, and as a major source of the cost of goods. In the age of pottery this effect was not as significant as it is today.  Pots were still in high demand and the lower price certainly contributed to a keeping a large number of potters employed.  Today you can buy metal pots for a few dollars; technology has made this possible by reducing the cost of labor.

            Finally the dark side of technology is revealed in the lessons from the wheel.  The number of people that populate the planet is largely due to technology.  Like the wheel our technology has allowed for an increased life expectancy, lower child mortality rates, and an infrastructure that can sustain more and more people.  The growth of technology is no longer measured in hundreds of years, but is measured, in some cases, by months. This growth is good for humanity, but bad for humans that do not keep up. More and more machines are capable of not only replacing the humans that make goods, but also replace the humans needed to repair them.  It is no longer far fetched to imagine machines that design and create other machines completely independent of constant human interaction.

            At present there are those in the fast food, and retail businesses that are on strike for better wages.  Whether they deserve more pay is moot, they will eventually be replaced completely by machines.  That possibility is not far away.  Already many operations in fast food and retail are being handled by machines. The production of the products used in fast food is highly automated from the field to the restaurant. Like two trains racing toward one another technology and the cost of human labor is on a collision course. As technology becomes cheaper, and labor becomes more expensive it is not hard to see where this will lead.  We will see it in our life time.

            What can humans do?  Competing with the machines is out of the question. Even if they take less pay and work longer hours, the machine will overtake them. Some of them can attempt to become better educated and stay a step ahead of the machines, but even this will only buy a little time.  As much as the reality may bite, it is the reality.  Humans are making and will make other humans obsolete. The impact this will have on humanity is a topic that you should put your wonderful mind and time into pondering and discussing. But hurry, there is not much time left.


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